(Reporting from CPAC convention) Republican leaders addressing Conservatives gathering at their annual CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) meeting presented both an opportunity and challenge for the 2014/2016 elections.
The enthusiasm and significant numbers of young professionals, along with a solid bullpen of strong candidates, indicates a movement that is overtly upbeat and a major force in American politics. Conservatives of all stripes express a similar, strong preference for individual freedom, limited government, common sense budgeting, and state’s rights.
However, while there is relatively little difference in economic and budgetary matters, sharp contrasts were visible among the majority of conservatives and Republicans, and the very distinct followers of Senator Rand Paul on foreign affairs. Indeed, a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon separates most conservatives and Senator Paul on this issue. The size of that divide may pose a challenge to the movements’ unity in national elections in the very near future.
Conservatives traditionally have endorsed a foreign policy that supported a strong defense, based on keeping conflicts far from U.S. shores, and vigorous support for America’s allies. Although Senator Paul states that he supports a strong defense, it is difficult to access precisely what he means by that. And when it comes to foreign affairs, keeping Washington’s enemies far from U.S. soil, and the defense of allies, Paul’s views can best be described as isolationist.
Clearly, this is not a perspective former President Ronald Reagan, the most revered figure of conservatives and Republicans alike, would have been comfortable with, or indeed would have recognized as being from the Republican/conservative camp.
Isolationism, as espoused by Senator Paul, (or an almost total reversal of U.S. foreign policy to the detriment of our allies and traditional defense posture, as advocated by President Obama,) is a controversial position to take in an era when North Korea overtly threatens a nuclear attack on the U.S., China is becoming increasingly aggressive, and Russia is acting as though the Cold War is back on.
The split will not affect contests for local and state races for positions from governor on down. However, federal races, including those for U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives, and of course for president, will clearly become a battleground for the contrasting views, a split the movement can ill afford in the wake of President Obama’s re-election and the ongoing media preference for Democrat candidates.
That media may well be the reason Rand Paul has garnered so much national attention, similar to that lavished on his father, former presidential contender Ron Paul. Promoting a divisive candidate such as Ron or Rand Paul, both clearly out of the Republican/conservative mainstream on the increasingly hot issue of foreign affairs, may weaken the right.